Interrogation is a conversational process of information gathering. The intent of interrogation is to control an individual so that he or she will either willingly supply the requested information or, if someone is an unwilling participant in the process, to make the person submit to the demands for information. The latter can involve techniques of humiliation, intimidation, and fear. In more extreme cases in some countries, physical pain is inflicted.

Every interrogation is intended to strip away the subject's defenses and resilience. If the process is successful, the subject will eventually "give in" and supply the interrogator with the information being sought.

The interrogators hold much power in the interrogation process. By various techniques that are intended to manipulate the subject psychologically, the interrogator's aim is to dominate the subject. For example, an interrogator can display a great knowledge of the subject's background and actions. Whether or not the interrogator actually knows much about the subject is irrelevant. The point is to convince the subject that what the interrogator says is true, and so that resistance is pointless.

The surroundings are also an important part of the interrogation process. Often, as in a police station, jail, or clandestine hideaway, the conditions are foreign, Spartan, and even uncomfortable to the subject. This throws

A captured Viet Cong suspect found with a hidden automatic weapon during a "search and seal" operation is interrogated, South Vietnam, 1967. AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS.
A captured Viet Cong suspect found with a hidden automatic weapon during a "search and seal" operation is interrogated, South Vietnam, 1967.

the subject off balance. If the conditions are abruptly changed, as for example, being brought out of solitary confinement to be given a hot shower and a tasty meal, a subject's mood may change abruptly from despair to relief. Then, information may be offered to the interrogator out of gratitude.

During the early stages of an interrogation process, an interrogator will "get to know" the subject. It is important to find out whether a subject is, for example, zealously dedicated to a cause, to the point of becoming a martyr, or whether the subject needs little persuasion to become compliant.

A skilled interrogator will also observe a subject's physical posture and listen carefully to the tone of his or her voice, especially if behavior changes in response to some aspect of the conversation. For example, many people who are nervous or under stress will unconsciously and protectively draw their elbows in to their sides. As another example, when many people are talking about something they either know a lot about or are passionate about, their rate of speaking increases. But, if a subject area is uncomfortable, many people pause and speak slowly. Knowing what topics a subject is sensitive to, and observing visual cues, can be used later as levers.

If a subject is reluctant to offer information, an interrogator will often begin to probe the topics that make the subject uncomfortable. By turns an interrogator can be calm or bluntly insistent. Both the topics discussed and the interrogator's manner are intended to keep the subject tense and off-balance, and to indicate to the interrogator how hard he or she may need to press to gain the information that is sought. A subject can become hostile during this phase of an interrogation, or may be compliant.

In the next phase of an interrogation process, the interrogator attempts to elicit the sought-after detailed information. The interrogator is firm and to the point at this stage, never allowing the conversation to stray off topic. The interrogator also will want to establish whether the subject's information is reliable. The interrogator can employ a variety of tactics, including leaving the subject alone for some time, making the subject think that he or she has no allies, using threats, talking about the subject's family, and even adopting a warm tone.

An interrogation is sometimes accomplished by a pair of interrogators, often with very different personalities. One person will be domineering, crass, profane, and loud. The other interrogator will be friendly, sympathetic, and quiet. This contrast, which is reinforced by a rehearsed routine, can work to the interrogator's advantage, particularly with women, teenagers, and shy people, who usually will respond to the quiet interrogator.

An interrogation can take place over days, with periods of solitary confinement in between. These solitary periods serve to build up tension in the subject and, especially if the surroundings are loud or uncomfortable, to make the subject exhausted.

As of late 2002, Amnesty International estimates that torture is part of interrogation in over 100 countries worldwide if a subject is especially uncooperative or displays great resiliency. Interrogation with torture may utilize drugs, hypnosis, threats of violence, and physical pain and injury to extract information.



Elliston, Jon. InTERRORgation: The CIA's Secret Manual on Coercive Questioning, 2nd ed. San Francisco: AK Press, 1999.

Gordon, Nathan J., William L. Fleisher, and C. Donald Weinberg. Effective Interviewing and Interrogation Techniques. New York: Academic Press, 2001.


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